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PROFILE: National Award Shows Marketing Student Understands Price For Success

Tracy Meyer, a PhD student in UC's marketing program, won a student paper competition at the national meeting of the Society for Consumer Psychology and, in the process, helped tell us a little more about how to become smarter consumers.

Date: 4/12/2004 8:00:00 AM
By: Carey Hoffman
Phone: (513) 556-1825
Photos By: Andrew Higley
UC ingot The reputation of the UC College of Business as a leading center for exploring how consumers make their buying decisions has paid off in helping grad student Tracy Meyer become an award-winning researcher.

Tracy Meyer
Wine is one of the product areas that researchers like Tracy Meyer use to measure consumers' reliance on price as a key indicator of quality.

Meyer brought home top honors for best student paper recently when the Society for Consumer Psychology held its annual meeting in San Francisco. She was the lead author on "When Belief and Evidence Conflict: Factors That Mitigate Consumers' Selective Use of Price-Quality Data," an analysis of the shortcuts consumers often fall back upon in making their buying decisions. Choosing a wrong mental shortcut in their consideration process can often lead to poor buying decisions.

UC's marketing faculty has published extensively on how consumers typically over-rely on price as too big a determinant of product quality. Meyer's paper moved that research another step forward by using selected hypothesis testing to compare price-quality considerations against other factors that could impact decisions of what to buy.

"The whole point is to help consumers make better decisions," says Meyer, who is in her third year of pursuing her PhD in marketing at UC. "We looked at what consumers typically do and how they use information. If you control the information available to them in an experimental situation and by doing so they make better judgments, then they're going to end up making better overall decisions."

Relying too much on price as an indicator of difference in quality is "a good example of the kind of mindless behavior to which we as consumers sometimes fall prey," says UC Professor of Marketing James Kellaris, one of Meyer's co-authors on the paper. "Some behaviors involve a lot of thinking. There may not be a compelling reason to think about how we brush our teeth, but there are compelling economic reasons to avoid mindless behavior when our money is involved."

The UC marketing faculty have typically explored the relationship between price-quality perceptions and buying decisions in fields that have a wide variance in pricing and are often a mystery to many consumers, such as wine, chocolates or house paints.

Breaking consumers of their habits even in a controlled experimental situation was easier said than done, according to Meyer. Consumers like to rely on shortcuts in decision-making, and price-quality assumptions are one of their favorites.

"The extent to which we do this was surprising, as was how hard it was to get them to change their perceptions," said Meyer. "You would think if you gave them information proving that their assumptions weren't true, you could get them to change their minds. But it's actually a very hard thing to do. The situation had to be right and you really have to encourage them."

Besides Kellaris, Meyer's co-authors on the paper were UC Professor of Marketing Frank Kardes, Miami University Assistant Professor of Marketing Maria Cronley (a recent UC PhD graduate), and University of Rochester Assistant Professor of Marketing Steven S. Posavac.

Meyer earned her bachelor's degree at Texas Christian University and her MBA from Xavier. She spent 14 years working in the banking field, where she eventually reached the conclusion that although her work was financially based, it was at its essence about marketing.

So she made the decision to come back to school.

"I could not be happier here," Meyer said. "The faculty here are amazingly supportive. There's an attitude here that they want you to succeed."

"Tracy has a genuine intellectual curiosity," praises Kellaris. "She really doesn't have to be motivated at all externally. That's such a key ingredient for success in grad school."

Meyer's approach is also paying off with another award, as she is the 2003-04 winner of the Excellence in Teaching award for the College of Business graduate assistants. She will now go on to the university-wide competition for the same award.

As of now, she's beginning work on her dissertation, which will focus on the consumer experience in retail environments. And later this year, she'll begin interviewing for faculty positions as she nears completion on her PhD, a process that can only benefit from the national recognition she received for this most recent paper.

"I was absolutely surprised and flattered by the whole thing," said Meyer. "You do your work and you think it might be good, but you never know how it compares to what other people are doing. But these papers were reviewed by people who know the research in this area, and for them to think it contributes to the knowledge base is the most flattering thing that can happen for a researcher."


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